Bush Returns to the UN

The "war after the war" in Iraq has proven more costly for the US in lives and money than anticipated. Daily potshots at GIs and a $4 billion monthly tab, not to mention power blackouts and red faces over not finding WMDs, have pushed President Bush to ask for more help than he now has from a short list of coalition partners.

The United Nations Security Council in May gave the US and Britain authority to administer Iraq. But ongoing violence in Iraq has pushed the US to decide it needs more than its own 147,000 troops and the 13,000 troops from 19 other countries, and a quicker pace toward economic development.

Mr. Bush this week will ask the UN Security Council to approve the interim Iraqi authority picked by the US. The question is: Does he need this UN imprimatur so badly - especially to fend off Democratic critics at home - that he's willing to give up much more authority in Iraq?

UN chief Kofi Annan threw Bush a lifeline Monday by issuing a report that recommends the Security Council recognize the Governing Council, a group of 25 leading Iraqis, as an interim government. He called the Council "a broadly representative partner with whom the United Nations and the international community at large can engage."

That's despite the fact the US retains a veto over the group's decisions as it tries to administer Iraq's domestic affairs, set up a body to write a constitution, and plan elections.

The antiwar nations on the Security Council, especially France and Russia, may be wary of supplying either aid or troops to what they may perceive as a US puppet. A number of countries won't send troops until the UN gives its approval. This has forced Bush to work closely with Mr. Annan to make sure this interim authority has enough respect among Iraqis to gain legitimacy abroad.

It's always awkward creating a democracy in a nondemocratic way. But the US carefully chose members of the Governing Council who favor democracy and who represent Iraq's ethnic and religious diversity. With a UN pat on the back in the offing, the interim authority might begin to show more independence from the US and further increase its legitimacy, especially if it sets up a timetable to establish a full democracy that will lead to a US withdrawal.

Both the UN and US have learned a lesson from this war about working together. Both have a stake in the US-led war on terrorism, and yet need to work out their differences in how to fight it case by case. Approving the Governing Council would help in cementing that lesson.

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